For 62 consecutive years, Ohrid has been adorned by actors, instrumentalists and singers from all continents of the world. With a recognizable parade of traditional costumes through old town, Ohrid is a place to be during Balkan Festival of Folk Dances and Songs, which takes place every summer.
Ohrid is a city located in the southwest part of North Macedonia, right on the shores of Lake Ohrid. Several epithets are attributed to this city, such as “the Balkan pearl” due to the beauty and uniqueness of the city and the lake, or “the Jerusalem of the Balkans” due to its 365 churches and rich historical background.
Besides numerous visitors and tourists from around the world who come to Ohrid to witness its beauty, this city is also visited for its numerous events and festivals, most of which take place during the summer period. One of these events is the Balkan Festival of Folk Songs and Dances, which, organized by the Center for Culture “Grigor Prlicev” - Ohrid, traditionally begins every year in July.
The Center for Culture was formed in 1958 as the House of Culture, an institution for the development and advancement of cultural and artistic activities in the Ohrid region. This center, with a series of activities and projects, promotes the development of culture, encourages the creativity of children and young people, develops cultural contents that engage all citizens, especially the youth and publishes cultural and artistic works.
The Balkan Festival of Folk Songs and Dances is among the oldest international folklore events in the Balkans, founded in 1962. Initially, the festival was titled “Ohrid Festival of Amateur Ensembles of Folk Songs and Dances” and the first festival edition took place on July 20, 1962. From 1967, the festival evolved to include vocal-instrumental ensembles and soloists, presenting authentic folk creations and traditional culture through dances, songs, rituals, customs, folk costumes, musical instruments used in music, as well as handicrafts.
The Balkan Festival of Folk Songs and Dances, rightfully for three decades, has been included in the UNESCO catalog as one of the most significant folklore events worldwide. It is a member of two associations within UNESCO: the International Council of Organizations for Folklore Festivals and Folklore Arts and the International Organization for Folklore Arts.
Apart from these successes, three monographs associated with the Balkan Festival of Folk Songs and Dances have been published, authored by the author and journalist Milcho Jovanoski. Through facts, images, and the emotions of the people who built and continue to build the Balkan Festival, it offers a warm and beautiful story about the creation and existence of this manifestation in the Balkan cultural spaces.
The festival gains greater significance not only for the promotion of folklore dances, but also in promoting Ohrid as a tourist center, capable of catering to various generations and preferences. This sentiment was vividly articulated in the speech by Deputy Mayor Percho Bozhinovski this summer: “We celebrate the seventh decade since the first danced oro and sung song on the Dolni Saraj stage. Since then, the magic began, and until today, several tens of thousands of participants, instrumentalists, dancers, and singers from all continents of the world have participated in the festival. I wish the participants the best representation at the festival, hoping they take beautiful impressions from ancient Ohrid and return to us again”.
The Balkan Festival has truly impressive data in its portfolio. In past years, around 60,000 singers, dancers and instrumentalists from North Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Moldova, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, Costa Rica, and Nigeria have participated in the Festival. Regular attendees include guests from diplomacy and foreign institutions for cultural development.
Ohrid takes pride in hosting this festival, evident in the involvement of its citizens and their commitment to the event. In occasion of the last festival, the Mayor of Ohrid, Kiril Pecakov, stated: “The Balkan Festival of Folk Songs and Dances is not just a North Macedonian but a global cultural treasure where the riches of folklore traditions from not only North Macedonian, but many other nations are carefully preserved. These folklore treasures have been passed down from generation to generation, creating true cultural masterpieces that have withstood and continue to withstand all pressures of modern living”.
Most often, folklore ensembles are comprised of young individuals and this is the festival’s stronger aspects. “This is my first time in Ohrid, where the festival and the audience are magnificent. After performances, we socialize with folklore artists from other participating countries, and we stroll through the city’s beauties. I have been dancing in this ensemble since I was 12, and I will continue. It’s wonderful when your hobby becomes a profession” – stated Desislav Popov, one of the Bulgarian dancers of ensemble “Trakija”, who took part on 48 edition festival.
Thus, the Balkan Festival becomes an opportunity for socializing and acquainting young people from around the world. It’s worth mentioning that throughout the summer, other similar events are organized, facilitating contacts among the youth. This festival also serves as a platform for negotiations and exchanges with other related festivals. For instance, “KUD Gerdan-Ohrid” performed at the “Pobrazhje” Folk Culture Festival in Vevchani. There, a new friendship was born with “KUD Tipoplastika” from Gornji Milanovac, Serbia. Dancers from both artistic groups had joint rehearsals, where a choreographer from Becej taught the Ohrid dancers a new set of Vlach dances, for which Gerdan had costumes. This year was also organized the Forth International music and folk – dance festival “Dancing in Ohrid” which assembled the folk and choral groups, orchestras, majorette teams composed of children, youth and adult groups. The idea of the festival is to provide an opportunity for the members of groups to get together, to establish friendships and culture presentation trough dance and music.
In July 2024, the new edition of the Balkan Festival in Ohrid is expected. Ohrid, along with the Cultural Center, is undertaking all necessary preparations to make yet another inspiring event. It aims to invite several hundred participants and thousands of visitors who appreciate traditional games, folklore, the beautiful nature, and tourist offerings in Ohrid.